Students at Duncan’s Lee Elementary may have expected to hear “get along. Little doggie,” once or twice when a guest speaker taught them about the Chisholm Trail, but none expected to learn about rodeo dedication from a little brown Chihuahua named Jo Lee.
Jo Lee was the biggest hit of Wednesday morning’s assembly, with roping coming in a close second.
“I like when the dog sneaked,” said kindergartner Elijah Drew, referring to a trick where the dog crawled about the stage.
“I liked it when the dog was jumping rope,” Mercy Matthews said of Jo Lee’s closing trick.
“I liked it when they were roping,’ said Aaron Johnson.
This odd breed of rodeo animal actually had an important message about patience, and about the time involved in training rodeo animals.
“When you train a horse to run barrels, it takes quite a while to do that,” said Speaker Donna battles. “You have to have a lot of patience, because every horse is different. It can take up to two years to get a horse ready to compete on the professional level.”
Battles displayed a large picture of herself, riding in a rodeo grand entry, standing in the saddle and carrying a U.S. flag. A single riding trick like that can take over a year to learn.
“When you train a horse to do that, it takes a year, too. Sitting in the saddle is easy, you can stop and turn, but when you’re standing in the saddle, you’re depending about 90% on what the horse knows. You don’t have a lot of control.”
Roping horses rate as some of the most expensive and specially trained horses in rodeo.
“Those cowboys will tell you they can’t win a dime without a good horse,” Battles said. “Some will pay $60,000 or more for a good roping horse.”
“In steer wrestling, you need two good horses,” she added.
The training is very specialized.
“A steer wrestling horse will run as close to the steer as possible and keep running after the cowboy jumps off. A roping horse is trained to stop when the cowboy jumps off,” Battles said.
Battles also emphasized the training and practice cowboys and cowgirls go through to sharpen their skills. Two lee students got chances to rope a metal practice steer on the stage.
They had little luck, but Battles reminded them that it takes lots of practice to get roping right. She explained that a herd traveling along the Chisholm Trail could stretch as much as two miles long and 200 yards wide. Cowboys tending them often stayed in the saddle 15 hours at a time. The scene looked much like the cattle drives seen on many television shows and movies.
“Most of the time they show the easy ones, where you just ride along in the saddle,” Battles said. “But in Oklahoma, thunderstorms would come up and scatter the cattle for miles, and it could take days to get them back together.”
Battles, and assistant Syvonna Davis, made the visit as part of her work with a group called Rodeo Education and Children, promoting the rodeo sport to school children. This year they’re helping promote the Chisholm Trail Stampede this weekend.
“A few years ago, it was just a big PRCA rodeo,” Battles said. “Now it’s joined in with some other things at the Heritage Center.”
The REACh group offers several programs, this one designed to appeal to younger children.
“I do three different programs,” Battles said. “That one is for the little bitty ones, then the next group has two different ones.”
Programs for older children give more information about the sport of rodeo, such as what judges look for when they’re scoring riding and roping. One program is called Code of the West, focusing on the character qualities needed for rodeo.
“We like to get them involved in areas they’re interested in, and then go into other messages,” Battles said. “We teach them about rodeo so they can better understand it.”
“Used to be, everyone saw horses, and it’s not prevalent anymore.”
Battles is uniquely qualified to teach about rodeo. She holds a Master of Science degree in special education and has been involved in rodeo almost her entire life.
“I love teaching. I love rodeo. God blessed me; I get to do both,” she said.
She hopes through the program to increase understanding about the sport, and hopefully get students involved in beneficial activities.
“If we can make a difference in one kid and keep them from going down the wrong path, it’s worth every bit of it,” Battles said.